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The Greatest Czech You’ve Never Heard Of

Published on November 06th, 2014 in Entertainment

  • Ladislav Smoljak and Zdeněk Svěrák with the bust of Jara Cimrman (photo courtesy of lidovky.cz)

  • "Auto-Bust" in the Jára Cimrman Museum (photo courtesy of denik.cz)

  • Cimrman monumnent at Kaproun railway station, in honor of the Master's exclusion from transport

  • "In this Hotel breakfasted Jára Cimrman"- sign affixed to a hotel in Prague (vrsovicedailyphoto.blogspot.cz)

  • Jara Cimrman Theatre in Bráník, c1983 (photo courtesy of www.jcsoft.cz)

  • Still from the play "Akt" (photo courtesy of Žižkovské divadlo)

  • Still from the play "Blaník" (photo courtesy of Žižkovské divadlo)


He has a theater, a museum, an asteroid named after him and was once voted the Greatest Czech, but you most likely won’t read about Jára Cimrman in any official history books. Why? Because he’s the greatest Czech that never existed.
 

Cimrman is the brainchild of Jiří Šebánek, Ladislav Smoljak and Zdeněk Svěrák. The great man was first introduced on a radio program in 1966 as an amateur ice sculptor. The radio show was also a hoax, but Cimrman quickly became a favorite reoccurring character. He is the quintessential underdog and instantly found a sympathetic ear with the Czechoslovaks. The Jára Cimrman Theatre (Žižkovské divadlo Járy Cimrmana) was founded in 1967 with Smoljak and Sverák writing the majority of the plays in which Cimrman’s colorful personality continued to evolve. Still today, the plays are performed as originally written. Nothing has been changed to update the old guy; he continues to resonate with people across the country.
 

Cimrman is a fairy tale—his insight went unrecognized and he just missed receiving credit for fabulous inventions like the light bulb and telephone (Edison and Bell arrived at the patent office before he did.) When hearing that his author friend Anton Chekov was writing a play about two sisters, he mildly enquired if two was enough. His engineering acumen was immensely helpful to Eiffel when he was struggling with a particular construction in Paris. Cimrman helpfully suggested maybe the legs should be spread a bit wider to make the tower more stable. Unhappily, this playwright, poet, inventor, philosopher, mathematician and musician never received due credit for his magnificent contributions to mankind.
 

 

 

Cimrman is intrinsically tied to Czech history and culture, and to understand him, not only do you have to have a good grasp of the country’s history and culture, but also the language as his work is full of linguistic puns. His appeal comes in the way this fictional man seamlessly blends into history, popping up at all the right moments to move the world forward. Being a country ruled and occupied by others for centuries, his perpetual runner up status has found welcoming hearts with young and old Czechs alike. 
 

Sadly, he never received his Greatest Czech honor – he came out tops in a 2005 Czech Television poll to find the greatest Czech, but in classic Cimrman style, was disqualified because he doesn’t exist.
 

 

 

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